Spotlight: Salome

John the Baptist, the New Testament prophet we discussed in our Spotlight post a few weeks ago, famously met his end at the hands Herod Antipas and his enraged wife, Herodias, whom the Baptist had publicly decried for breaking the Law of Moses (she was his brother’s wife before she left him to marry Antipas).  Taking advantage of the

Andrea Solario (ca. 1465–1524)
“Salome with the Head of Saint John the Baptist”
The Metropolitan Museum of Art

opportunity to capitalize on Herod’s lust over her daughter, Salome, she managed to use the young woman as a means of executing the imprisoned and beloved John.  After dancing before her stepfather at a feast, Salome is promised anything she desires in the world, and at the bidding of her mother, she tells him that she wants the head of John the Baptist on a platter, thus forever sealing her fate as seductress and murderess.  Artists have been fascinated by this obliging daughter and unfortunate pawn for centuries.

How to Know Her and Where to Find Her: Salome (whose name is not noted in the Mark 6 account of the story, but given by the ancient Jewish historian Josephus) is typically shown is the midst of the Dance of the Seven Veils, the traditional name of the dance that earned her John’s head on a platter.  She is more often depicted with John’s head.  But be cautious!  When you see an image of woman with a decapitated head, be sure to check for other signs that it is Salome; images of her are sometimes confused with those of the Jewish heroine Judith, who beheaded Holofernes, an enemy of the Israelites.

Salome in New York City: One of the most striking portrayals of Salome can be found in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (in the same gallery as the stunning Joan of Arc we’ve mentioned here before!).  This grand work by Henri Regnault, which catches the eye with its vibrant palette and near-photographic rendering of the figure, is a must-see.

Henri Regnault (1843–1871)
“Salomé”, 1870
The Metropolitan Museum of Art

You can also find Salome in the Brooklyn Museum, in a much differently rendered portrayal, though it expresses the woman’s role throughout Western art just the same.

Richard Bruce Nugent (1906-1987)
“Salome Dancing”, ca. 1925-30
The Brooklyn Museum

Modern Day Murderess: Salome has been a subject of fascination for centuries.  Painted by Caravaggio, Titian, and Dore, among many others, she has also been a muse for writers and musicians.  She was the titular character of a play by Oscar Wilde, which premiered in 1896.  His imagining of the young femme fatale, as a woman infatuated with the imprisoned Baptist who does not return her affection, captivated other artists and inspired everything from a one-act opera by Richard Strauss to a gritty alternative rock song by 90s singer-songwriter Liz Phair.

Literature – Salome can be found as a minor but significant character in the Brooks Hansen novel John the Baptizer, which we mentioned in our post about John the Baptist a few weeks ago.  In Hansen’s rich narrative description of the scene in which Salome performs a dance so sensational that her uncle/stepfather promises her half of his kingdom if she should desire it, the young Herodian princess is little more than a bored, spoiled girl seeking thrills wherever she can find them.  In Beatrice Gormley’s young adult novel, Salome, the story is one of maternal betrayal, guilt, and regret.  Told from Salome’s point of view, the story acts as a great introduction for readers seeking literature that further characterizes biblical figures, especially traditional villains.  Gormley softens the harsh light cast on an obliging girl doing her mother’s bidding and puts the reader in the scene in which the former is blamed for centuries to come while the latter is faintly remembered as a footnote in the crime.

– T.C. for MOBIA

Beyond Broadway at 61st: Shrine Church of St. Anthony of Padua

Every week, Art, the Bible & the Big Apple will feature a New York City site with interesting biblical art that we think is worth a look. Whether uptown, downtown, across town, or in the boroughs, we’ll explore art in context, from well-known landmarks to buildings tucked away on quiet blocks. Visit New York’s hidden gems with us, see some old friends, and maybe discover some new ones.

Right on Houston Street, on the dividing line between a few Downtown New York City neighborhoods, stands the Shrine Church of St. Anthony of Padua, a gathering place for the community.  Founded in 1866 as a ministry that catered to Italian immigrants, the church is to this day run by Franciscan Friars, an order founded by St. Francis of Assisi in 1209 devoted to ministering to the poor.  The church operates as a parish, as a shrine to St. Anthony of Padua (1195-1231), popular patron saint of Padua to whom believers pray when they’ve lost something. The site is also the setting for St. Anthony’s Market (Friday, Saturday, and Sunday from 10 AM to 8 PM) where one can fine various wares including clothes, jewelry, and flowers.

The church’s richly decorated  interior attests to its historic ministry to an Italian Catholic congregation.   The large, brightly colored stained glass windows are devoted solely to St. Anthony and his personal patron, St. Francis of Assisi,.  The main altar holds painted statues of St. Anthony bowing before the Virgin Mary.  In the choir loft, nearly hidden from view, is a monumental, life-size sculpture of the Trinity – God, depicted as an older man, talking with Jesus, with the dove of the Holy Spirit hovering above them.

This historic parish, a fixture in the neighborhood for more than 100 years , the calls out to the neighborhood with an eye-catching message of “PEACE ON EARTH” written on a large sign on the side of the church that faces the ever-busy Houston Street. 

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St. Anthony of Padua is located at 154 Sullivan Street.

– T.C. for MOBIA

Spotlight: Delilah

Samson and Delilah
Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472–1553)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art (artwork not currently on display)

One of the most infamous femme fatales of all time, Delilah, from the Book of Judges, brought down the Israelite hero Samson with a single act so potent that it has been recounted in art for centuries.  In the quintessential story of how feminine wiles can undo even the strongest man, Delilah is portrayed as the embodiment of deceit, treachery, and lust.

How to Know Her and Where to Find Her: In Judges 16, Samson, an Israelite, falls in love with a woman named Delilah, who was approached by Samson’s enemies, the Philistines, and bribed into getting him to reveal the secret of his strength.  After misleading her several times, Samson finally admits that his uncut hair allows him to be invincible.  In art, Delilah is often seen ushering in the Philistines to allow them access to a sleeping Samson.  Sometimes, she prepares to cut Samson’s hair, so look for a pair of scissors or a knife.

Delilah is also sometimes depicted in scenes in which a weakened and betrayed Samson is blinded.

The Temptress Takes Manhattan: Delilah can found in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in a beautiful painting by Guercino.  She makes other appearances throughout the museum.

Samson Captured by the Philistines, 1619
Guercino (Giovanni Francesco Barbieri) (1591–1666)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art

In 2009, MOBIA’s exhibition Reel Religion: a Century of the Bible and Film displayed a move poster for the 1948 film, Samson and Delilah.  The dramatic image juxtaposes the pale, beautiful Delilah with an invincable Samson, showing off his strength with the jaw of an ass, his weapon.

“Samson and Delilah”, 1949

Delilah Today: Literature – India Edghill’s novel Delilah tells the well-known story from Delilah’s point of view.  Edghill imagines Delilah as a priestess in the ancient Near East who falls in love with the mysterious hero Samson.  Their lives and those of the people around them are placed in a very interesting historical context and colored by the heightened drama of the story found in the Bible.  Edgill does a great job of making a one-dimensional character believably multi-dimensional.

Music – On her 2006 album Begin to Hope, Regina Spektor released a song called “Samson” that makes strong allusions to the tale of Delilah and Samson.  Much like a visual work of art, Spektor brings out clues as to who the characters are, but reshapes them to tell the story of her choosing:

You are my sweetest downfall
I loved you first, I loved you first
Beneath the sheets of paper lies my truth
I have to go, I have to go
Your hair was long when we first met…

Samson went back to bed
Not much hair left on his head
Ate a slice of Wonder Bread and went right back to bed
Oh, we couldn’t bring the columns down
Yeah we couldn’t destroy a single one
And history books forgot about us
And the Bible didn’t mention us, not even once

(Listen to the song here.)

– T.C. for MOBIA

Beyond Broadway at 61st: Trinity Wall Street

Every Wednesday, Art, the Bible & the Big Apple will feature a New York City site with interesting biblical art that we think is worth a look. Whether uptown, downtown, across town, or in the boroughs, we’ll explore art in context, from well-known landmarks to buildings tucked away on quiet blocks. Visit New York’s hidden gems with us, see some old friends, and maybe discover some new ones.

Wall Street, known for towering skyscrapers and fast-paced street traffic, also offers a surprising haven from the bustle of Downtown.  Trinity Wall Street, a historic Episcopal church, is a comforting sight with its façade of brown stone, its soaring, 250-foot spire, serene tympanum, and adjacent cemetery (the exterior is currently under construction, blocking the overall view for the time being).  The centuries-old headstones, brightened by carefully cultivated rows of flowers, are worth the walk around the property.  Inside, the highlight is the All Saints’ Chapel, set apart from the main sanctuary, undisturbed and beautiful like a true relic from the Gothic past.  You may not find hidden treasure under the church like Nicolas Cage did in the 2004 movie National Treasure, but it is considered a treasure to the New York City community.

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Beyond Broadway at 61st: Temple Emanu-El

Every Wednesday, Art, the Bible & the Big Apple will feature a New York City site with interesting biblical art that we think is worth a look. Whether uptown, downtown, across town, or in the boroughs, we’ll explore art in context, from well-known landmarks to buildings tucked away on quiet blocks. Visit New York’s hidden gems with us, see some old friends, and maybe discover some new ones.

If you find yourself strolling though Central Park in need of an architectural destination, make your way to the 65th Street crossing and follow it to the East Side where Temple Emanu-El awaits.  Stunning both inside and out, Temple Emanu-El is the largest synagogue in the world. Built in a pastiche of gothic revival/Moorish/Romanesque revival style expressly for its Reformed Congregation and consecrated in 1929, the west facade features a monumental wheel window. The bimah, located in the synagogue’s east end, is eight stories of shimmering mosaic, designed and executed by one of America’s finest decorative artists, Hildreth Meiere (1892-1961).

Meiere took as her inspiration the fifth and sixth century mosaics found in many of Ravenna, Italy’s early Christian buildings, transforming them into Judaic symbols for the bimah’s monumental arch. Beginning with the lower left symbol and moving up the arch the symbols are: the date palm/Tree of Life; the tallit or prayer shawl; the menorah; the eternal light; the Magen David; a pair of shofars; the Torah Ark; the Table of the Shewbread; a Huppa; and a pair of Shabbath candles.

The most striking example of use and adaption is the depiction of  the open Torah Ark, which Meiere must have based on the Gospel cabinet from the Oratory of Galla Placidia, dating to c. 425, itself an adaptation based on the Torah Ark form used since Antiquity:

Galla Placidia, c. 425
Hildreth Meiere
Temple Emanu-El

The temple’s sheer size fails to shake a permeating feeling of peacefulness within the sanctuary, which is amplified by the stained-glass windows, the glittering mosaics, and the colored marble columns, among countless other beautiful objects.  3,000 New York City families call this temple home, and it is easy to see why.  Temple Emanu-El is gem not to be missed.

Also, check out the Herbert and Eileen Museum of Judaica, which features special exhibitions as well as fine permanent display of Temple Emanu-El’s treasures. A dynamic program of tours and lectures is offered by the Skirball Center, including one to be offered at MOBIA in October for our upcoming Louis C. Tiffany exhibition.

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Spotlight: John the Baptist

Whether standing hip deep in the Jordan River baptizing his cousin, having his head presented on a platter by Salome to Herod Antipas, or, as a child, cuddling with his aunt and cousin in a tender tableau, the figure of John the Baptist resonates throughout the history of Western art.

Saint John the Baptist Bearing Witness
Annibale Carracci (Italian, Bologna 1560–1609 Rome), ca. 1600
Oil on copper, 21 3/8 x 17 1/8 in. (54.3 x 43.5 cm), The Metropolitan Museum of Art (not currently on display)

How to Know Him: John the Baptist is often found carrying a reed cross, signaling his role as the harbinger of Jesus as the Messiah.  A man of the wilderness John “wore a garment of camel’s hair and a leather girdle around his waist,” as it is recorded in Matthew 3:4.

Where to Find Him: John is most frequently pictured in scenes of Jesus being baptized, as he was the one who did the deed.  He is also sometimes shown in collections of saintsgathered around the enthroned Virgin Mary, usually as a mark of patronage or as a way of singling him out for special devotion.  In other depictions, he is portrayed as an

The Baptism of Christ, ca. 1390, Lower Austria
Pot-metal and colorless glass, vitreous paint and silver stain, 27 15/16 x 12 1/4 in. (71 x 31.1 cm), The Cloisters

infant with the Virgin and Jesus, which is not a scene recorded in the Bible, though the some of the Gospels detail John’s conception and birth in relation to Jesus’s (Luke 1:5-25. 57-80).  There are also images of his death, showing his decapitated head on a platter, as it was requested by Salome, the stepdaughter of Herod Antipas, whom John had publically decried for his breaking of the Law of Moses.

New York City Hiding Places: John the Baptist can be found throughout the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Cloisters, as well as in various churches throughout the city.  The Met actually features a series of paintings by sixteenth-century artist Francesco Granacci depicting the baptizer’s life.

Scenes from the Life of Saint John the Baptist
Francesco Granacci (Francesco di Andrea di Marco) (Italian, Villamagna 1469–1543 Florence), ca. 1506–7, Tempera, oil, and gold on wood, 30 9/16 x 59 1/2 in. (77.6 x 151.1 cm), The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Plaque with the Head of Saint John the Baptist on a Charger
School of Nottingham, 15th century, Probably Nottingham, Alabaster with paint, Overall: 8 1/4 x 6 5/16 x 1 1/8 in. (21 x 16 x 2.9 cm), The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Baptist Today: Theatre – In the musical Godspell – which closed its Broadway revival on June 24 – John the Baptist, dressed as a modern man, calls out to the audience to “prepare ye the way of the Lord.”  Interestingly, in that particular show, the actor who plays John the Baptist later portrays Judas Iscariot, Jesus’s apostle-turned-betrayer.

“Gospell”, 1973

Film – The birth of John the Baptist was recently explored in popular culture in the 2006 film The Nativity Story.  Though most of the movie is devoted to the emotional journey of Jesus’s mother Mary and her new husband, Joseph, there is attention given to the joy of John’s mother, Elizabeth, played by Shohreh Aghdashloo, as she anticipates the son she has long awaited.  The movie depicts the tender relationship between Mary and Elizabeth and uses it as a means to parallel the future importance that John will hold for his cousin Jesus.

Mary (Keisha Castle-Hughes) and Elizabeth (Shohreh Aghdashloo) reveling in their unborn children in “The Nativity Story” (2006)

Literature – The 2009 novel John the Baptizer by Brooks Hansen examines the man usually thought of as merely an opening act by weaving together historical accounts, legend, and traditions such as asceticism and mysticism.  Hansen cleverly splits the book between the story of John, who was born into the world special yet experiences the same doubts and longings as any other man, and the story of Herod the Great, the mad king of Judea who would order the Massacre of the Innocents in Bethlehem during Jesus’s infancy and whose son, Herod Antipas, would become fascinated by John before infamously ordering his death.  A compelling read, John the Baptizer focuses the attention on the classic messenger, to more than satisfactory results.

– T.C. for MOBIA

Beyond Broadway at 61st: St. Patrick’s Cathedral

Every Wednesday, Art, the Bible & the Big Apple will feature a New York City site with interesting biblical art that we think is worth a look. Whether uptown, downtown, across town, or in the boroughs, we’ll explore art in context, from well-known landmarks to buildings tucked away on quiet blocks. Visit New York’s hidden gems with us, see some old friends, and maybe discover some new ones.

St. Patrick’s Cathedral, a heavily visited attraction in New York City, is located directly across the street from Rockefeller Center.  This formidable, historic church is a Midtown landmark and an ever-popular sight in spite of the construction inhibiting a full view of the exterior.  Modeled on a medieval pilgrimage church, this basilica with its ample side aisles and ambulatory permits cultural and pious pilgrims alike to make their journey through the church simultaneously.  A trip to St. Patrick’s feels much like a visit to a museum, but the beautiful objects stationed around the premises are not just for show; at all hours, you will find believers venerating these works of art as part of their private devotions, together with camera-toting tourists and security guards.  While everything inside is eye-catching, from the white marble statues affixed in the side aisle chapels, to the towering western doors, to the magnificent rose window (the circular stained-glass window above the choir loft, a typical feature of Gothic cathedrals), the church itself is the most impressive aspect.  In a city full of architecturally striking structures, St. Patrick’s stands apart as a definite must-see for anyone seeking aesthetic inspiration.

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